Having undergone a restyling in 2005, the Ford Focus enters 2006 with mostly trim and option changes. An automatic transmission is no longer available on the base S trim line; a Sport Package is no longer available on the ZX3 or ZX4 (its content is integrated into an optional appearance package); and Audiophile systems include duplicate audio controls. CD players now have MP3 capability, and the SE comes standard with six-spoke wheel covers. For exterior colours, Screaming Yellow, Dark Toreador Red and Pueblo Gold have been added; Egg Yolk Yellow, Sangria Red, Blazing Copper, Arizona Beige and French Blue are gone.

The Focus is Ford’s entry-level car. An excellent European version that shares components with the Mazda3 may make its way here eventually, but until then, our North American version still returns a fine driving experience, and best of all, 2006 prices have not changed from 2005.

Focus comes in four body styles: the ZX3 two-door hatchback, ZX5 four-door hatchback, ZX4 four-door sedan, and ZXW four-door wagon. (The seemingly odd number designations are because Ford calls the hatchbacks three- and five-door models.) There are also four trim levels: S, SE, SES and the high-performance ST.

All Focus models share a 2.0-litre Duratec inline four-cylinder engine, except for the ST, which uses a 2.3-litre inline four. All come with a five-speed manual; the SE and SES can be optioned up to a four-speed automatic transmission.

The base S trim line is available on the ZX3 and ZX4 and includes 15-inch steel wheels, manual remote mirrors, fixed intermittent wipers, CD player, and 60/40 folding rear seat. Air conditioning, ABS and side air bags cannot be added as options.

The mid-line SE trim is available on the ZX3, ZX4 and ZXW, and adds air conditioning, power locks with keyless entry, rear floor mats (except on ZX3), variable intermittent wipers, and map lights. ABS and side air bags are optional.

The SES is available on ZX4, ZX5 and ZXW, and adds traction control, ABS, 16-inch alloy wheels, fog lamps, power heated mirrors, tachometer, cruise control, power windows, leather-wrapped steering wheel and heated front seats.

In addition to the bigger engine, the ZX4 ST adds four-wheel disc brakes, sport-tuned suspension, chrome-tipped exhaust, six-CD player with MP3, and sport bucket seats.

The Focus handles surprisingly well, has decent acceleration with good fuel, and it makes the most of its city-friendly size, especially with the tall hatchback and wagon models. But it’s not the least expensive compact out there; the base Chevrolet Cobalt sedan has more horsepower and is $1,085 less than the cheapest Focus sedan.

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